ST. GEORGE – A new St. George pet shop is having a hard time escaping its Nevada legacy.
Fur de Leash, located in the Holiday Square shopping plaza, 175 W. 900 South in St. George, opened in early February and is still in its “soft opening” stage, shop owner and manager Hayley Gardner said. But, already, the presence of this new pet store has created a stir among local animal activists.
The reason? Fur de Leash has close ties to Pet Pros, a Henderson, Nevada, pet store that was recently denied business license renewal by the Henderson City Council amid a storm of accusations about sick animals, overcrowding and other alleged violations.
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The controversy surrounding the Henderson store has some Southern Utah residents worried that Fur de Leash’s presence will breed similar problems locally.
Issues in Nevada
Gardner’s father, owner of the now-closed Pet Pros store in Henderson, is currently facing misdemeanor charges in Nevada: seven counts of animal establishment violations, including keeping puppies in cages that were too small and having sick animals in close quarters with healthy ones, and five counts of failure to provide adequate water for animals in the store.
Scott Gardner explained during a Henderson City Council meeting Tuesday that mitigating circumstances – and having animal control officers show up just as shop workers were trying to deal with those circumstances – led to the majority of the charges.
He additionally told the council that a city ordinance changed regarding what constitutes puppy overcrowding and that he had not been aware of the change, which also contributed to some of the charges leveled against him.
Scott Gardner failed to renew his Henderson business license when it expired at the end of November 2014, allowing weeks to pass before responding to notices from the city about the lapse, and this is what initially spurred the city to take action against his store.
Scott Gardner said failing to renew the license was an oversight on his part, adding he had a prolonged illness in December 2014 that further delayed taking care of the license renewal.
The isolated incidents in 2014 for which he is being charged, he said, were the first problems his store has had. He told the council he has been in the pet business for 40 years and has been operating his Henderson store for 11 years.
“We wouldn’t have been around as long if we were selling sick puppies,” Scott Gardner said.
A few other individuals also addressed the Henderson council on Tuesday, including a representative from Henderson Animal Control and one Pet Pros customer who said he has purchased two dogs from the store – one that was healthy and one that was not. The commenters were asked to talk only about the matter of Pet Pros’ business license reinstatement.
City Council members then voted unanimously that Scott Gardner’s business license would not be reinstated, effectively closing Pet Pros’ doors permanently.
Hayley Gardner, Scott Gardner’s daughter and owner of the new St. George Fur de Leash store, said the charges and resulting media storm in Las Vegas blew things out of proportion.
“It’s all an overexaggeration,” she said. “Just bad things happening at the worst possible time.”
Setting up shop in St. George
The St. George business license for Fur de Leash bears Hayley Gardner’s name only, and she said she is the sole owner and manager of the new store. She said she’s wanted to move to the St. George area for several years now, having visited St. George with her dad many times growing up. The issues her father now faces relating to his Nevada store, where she was an employee, were an impetus for her to make the move to Utah, she said.
“It gave me an incentive,” she said.
In addition to purebred puppies, Fur de Leash sells items like animal treats and pet supplies.
Hayley Gardner said puppies will likely be the only live animals sold in her store, whereas her father’s store carried creatures like fish, birds and guinea pigs in addition to dogs. She said she would like to partner with local animal shelters to host cat adoption events once her store is fully open and established.
Because of the highly publicized controversy surrounding the now-defunct Henderson store, animal rights activists in the St. George area have voiced concerns about Fur de Leash – specifically regarding whether puppies in the shop will be properly cared for, whether they are healthy, and whether or not they have come from puppy mills.
A worker at the St. George Animal Shelter confirmed that many calls have been received regarding the shop, and on Thursday, two officers from St. George Animal Control stopped by Fur de Leash to take a look around.
It is standard protocol for Animal Control to keep tabs on local pet stores, St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said. No issues or violations have been identified at Fur de Leash, he said, and there is no open investigation regarding the shop.
“There really is no police issue going on with that store,” Despain said.
Hayley Gardner, who refers to the puppies in the shop as her babies, said some of the puppies currently for sale at Fur de Leash did come from her father’s closed-down Henderson shop. Each dog brought up from Nevada had to receive health certification from the State of Nevada’s Department of Agriculture-Division of Animal Industry before it could be transported out of the state, she said. (See photo of certificate accompanying this report.)
Because Pet Pros was shut down and the animals had to be moved from the store within a short time period, some of the Henderson puppies ended up being given away for free, she said – many to Pet Pros customers who had come in repeatedly to admire certain dogs.
“Just to make sure they had good homes,” Hayley Gardner said.
As far as concerns about Fur de Leash puppies coming from puppy mills, she said there is no truth to that.
“We get all of them from licensed and regulated breeders,” she said.
“I have addresses on each and every baby that we have in the store,” she added.
Puppies sold in Fur de Leash come with official certificates of pedigree showing the dog’s lineage and the name of the breeder the animal came from.
Hayley Gardner said she also backs her puppies with guarantees. Every puppy sold at Fur de Leash comes with a one-year guarantee against any congenital problems, she said. If a Fur de Leash puppy is found to have any hereditary health issues within the first year of the buyer’s ownership, the pet owner can get a second puppy from the store free of charge.
Fur de Leash also offers a lifetime guarantee, she said, and the owner of any Fur de Leash puppy that dies – even many years after purchase or through no fault of the store, such as the puppy being involved in an accident – will receive a 25 percent discount toward the purchase of a new puppy at the shop.
Hayley Gardner added she’s working to add a 10-day guarantee, as well. With the 10-day guarantee, she said, if any health issues are found within 10 days after a puppy is purchased, the shop will pay for all needed veterinary care at Fur de Leash’s preferred local veterinarian.
Some of the charges Hayley Gardner’s father faces in Nevada relate to animal control officers finding water bottles empty in some of the puppy cages during a visit to Pet Pros. Regarding the living conditions for puppies at Fur de Leash, there was no visible water or food present in the open petting cases where puppies are kept on the display floor, but Gardner said this is because puppies are fed and given water two to three times per day, depending on the particular puppy, in a back room of the store. Puppies are also swapped out regularly throughout the day, she said, with puppies that have been on display in the petting cases being taken to the back to eat, drink and nap, while other puppies are brought up from the back room to take their turns being admired and petted by customers at the front of the store.
“We’re just trying to make sure that happy, healthy puppies have happy, healthy homes,” Hayley Gardner said.
Puppy purchasing tips
Dr. Jace King, a veterinarian at the Washington Family Veterinary Clinic in St. George, said prospective puppy owners, whether they’re purchasing or adopting a dog, can watch for certain things to make sure the puppy they’re getting is a healthy one.
“Just pay attention to the little things,” he said.
When shopping for a puppy, King said prospective pet owners should do the following:
- Visually inspect the puppy. Does it seem well cared for? What does its coat look like? Do its teeth and bite seem good? Do its eyes look clear and healthy? Does it have any visible sores or abrasions?
“If they have poor coats, things like that, you can think that, ‘Well, they may have come from a puppy mill who hadn’t dewormed them, who hasn’t taken very good care of them – their mothers as well as them,’” King said.
- Physically inspect the dog – put your hands on it. See how it walks and watch for any signs of things like hip problems. What are the puppy’s manners like? Play with the puppy. Does it get aggressive, tire quickly, or simply roll over and do nothing? Does it seem scared? How does it interact with other pets in the shop?
- Ask for a guarantee. Ask the pet shop, pet rescue or shelter about offered guarantees before purchasing or adopting a puppy. What protections does the establishment offer against undisclosed or unforeseen medical conditions? If you take the puppy to a veterinarian and any health problems are uncovered, will the pet shop or rescue group pay for needed medical care and/or refund your money?
“Major things like that – genetic disorders, things like that; cleft palates; things that maybe the normal person or the layperson wouldn’t look for – that’s something we would (discover) on just a health check,” King said.
King added that sickness, such as respiratory illness, is not necessarily an indication that a puppy has been mistreated or came from a puppy mill. Illness can be a common occurrence in shops and shelters where dogs are kept in close proximity to each other, he said. Puppies’ immune systems can be compromised as a result of stress from being separated from their mothers, which makes them more susceptible to bacteria and viruses. Gastrointestinal problems are also common when a dog experiences sudden diet changes associated with moving from one location to another, such as moving from a breeder’s locale to a pet shop.
“They get stressed out by being taken away from their mothers, and then they’re stuck with a whole bunch of other puppies that are stressed out. So, it’s just a lot of things that compound on each other,” King said.
Videocast contributed by St. George News videographer Leanna Bergeron.
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